I don’t go to The Printworks very often. I’m not a snob. It’s just not my cup of tea. I was somewhat surprised that it was chosen for Busaba Eathai’s first opening in Manchester. Sadly, I feel that it’s right at home in Café Rouge’s uninspiring former spot.
Busaba Eathai (a portmanteau of ‘eat’ and ‘thai’) is a chain of restaurants masterminded by Alan Yau, the brains behind Wagamama. Clearly thinking he was onto a good thing with communal dining, the London branches are fitted out with large tables. But alas, they did not make it north of the Watford Gap, leaving a regular dining experience.
The décor is nice enough. Tasteful shades of brown, standard Northern Quarter exposed brickwork, Thai imagery and flattering soft lighting. The ceiling fans seem an unnecessary addition as you can also see the air conditioning units above, and they create an annoying and probably potentially epilepsy-inducing flashing light on some of the tables.
I know I’m going back through The Printworks in an hour or two so I need a stiff drink. The Thai martini is refreshingly minty but lacks that reassuring alcohol kick (arguably the raison d’être of the martini) and the Muay Thai is nutty and savoury. It comes with half a passion fruit, so that’s one of my five a day sorted.
Almost everything I ate could be described as “it was nice but…” The calamari with ginger and green peppercorns was cooked well but lacked depth of flavour, and the chicken satay was beautifully charred but I struggled to taste any peanut. The saving grace was the chilli lime sauce with the goong tohd (breaded king prawns), which was one of the most delightfully salty things I have eaten in a long time.
The service was a mixed bag. One waiter was knowledgeable and enthusiastically recommended several dishes on the menu. Keen to please, almost like a puppy. I say almost, otherwise I may be accused of being patronising.
On the same visit, however, there was a delay when it came to clearing the starter plates, with the tepid main courses arriving virtually immediately thereafter. On the other visit, I sat for 30 minutes with an empty glass and no service whatsoever after finishing my food.
The green chicken curry had large moist pieces of chicken drowning in a rather nondescript sauce, apart from the pea aubergines which the waiter warned me are very bitter. They look like peas but are the size of marbles, have a slightly tough skin and a mildly bitter mush inside. I should have heeded the advice.
The tamarind sauce went well with the char-grilled duck breast, but the duck was overcooked (not just not pink, but really overcooked). The pad Thais were inoffensive.
At the other end of the spectrum, the ginger beef stir-fry was wonderful. What appears to be a mean portion reveals itself to have a deep flavour with a rich dark sauce. I recommend swapping out the jasmine rice for the sticky variety or even a flaky Thai roti.
My confusion with the food and service extended to the toilets. Good luck deciphering which symbol is the male toilets and which is the female.
Perhaps pudding would sway things. It didn’t. I was not offered a pudding menu on either of my visits and had to specifically ask for one. When I did, I was told that a new menu was coming soon. I purposely went back for a second visit after I was told when it would arrive. It had not.
Instead, on both occasions I was offered what seemed to be a bland selection of ice creams and sorbets. I ordered the mango and coconut sorbets as they felt like the right things to get. I really shouldn’t have bothered.
Who knows what’s happened here. Just teething problems or a format that has not translated well to Manchester? Either way, I certainly won’t be rushing back to try the new puddings. If they ever materialise, that is.
Unit 1 The Printworks, Withy Grove, Manchester M4 2BS